Last week, in a meeting with colleagues at my education-based nonprofit, a dedicated volunteer asked me a question that required more thought than I expected.
"How do you continue to learn about and evaluate your work?" she asked. "How are you sure that the change you hope to see in the world is going to be realized?"
One year ago, working predominantly as an educator, this would have been an easy answer for me.
"I look at the students' eyes", I would have said. "They show me understanding and engagement, confusion and frustration. They are the key to unveiling the impact that you are having as a teacher."
I've always been a big believer in what Benjamin Zander calls "shining eyes". They demonstrate commitment to the task at hand. They're how I know that I am fostering passion in others, and in turn building a lifelong relationship between the learner and the learning. Through them, I see the building blocks of confidence and command of the students' work.
As a nonprofit administrator, my answer changes. I do significantly value my life's current project. Among many things, it affords the opportunity to provide access to unique and meaningful learning experiences for thousands of students. Our organization also works in association with NBA Cares and in tandem with many outstanding educators across the country. That is an unbelievably fun thing to wake up to each day. The one drawback is that I spend far less time as a practicing educator.
Under new circumstances, my response to the question that was originally posed reads a bit differently.
"I strive to always remain connected to the learning. I always want to be a teacher."
For me, always being a teacher means that I maintain a strong understanding of what students need to succeed in the classroom, and in life. I am in touch with what frustrates them and what they believe to be relevant to their learning. It means that I never become what I dread as an educator -- the person who tells teachers what they ought to be doing, without ever really doing it. The person who tells students what they should be learning, without ever giving thought to what makes them happy.
To this end, I remain committed to always being a teacher, as well as a learner. And I challenge every person to always strive for the same, regardless of age, occupation, or position in life. A commitment to the transfer of knowledge allows us to always seek opportunities to better ourselves through the expertise of others, and to share our own knowledge to improve the lives of those around us.
As I begin an ongoing discussion of the importance of partnerships and relationships across the education sector, I believe at my core that it is essential to never forget the power of the point of contact - between governments, organizations, individuals, and beyond. One positive, productive, and honest interaction can change a life, and in turn the world.